July 15, 2019

Biodegradable plastic alternative made from cactus plants


New discovery! Biodegradable plastic alternative made from cactus plants really? We here at EPE USA have accepted the responsibility as an industry leader to provide sustainable packaging solutions and make a significant positive impact on our environment. In addition to our work, we’re constantly researching new ideas and alternative materials to use within the packaging industry to help save our world.


And we’ve found one.


We recently learned about a new discovery of biodegradable plastic created from prickly pear cactus (opuntia megacantha) that is 100% biodegradable and non-toxic. To put it into perspective – until now plastic alternatives considered ‘biodegradable’ in reality often require industrial composting facilities and can remain hazardous for years. In contrast, this new, cactus-based plastic substitute fully breaks down in soil in just one month and in water in only a few days. What’s more impressive – it’s fully edible and non-toxic to animals, so even if it does find its way into the environment it does not pose an ecological threat.


Sandra Pascoe Ortiz, an engineering professor at the University of Guadalajara, began researching potential solutions derived from the nopal cactus plant in 2013. She soon learned that the cacti found all over the deserts of Mexico were comprised of the exact sugars and gums necessary for the creation of biopolymer substances: the building blocks for plastic. Ortiz and the students in her lab combined the juice extracted from the prickly pear cactus with a mixture of glycerine, animal fat, and wax and laminated the resulting formula. The result: a thin, tough, and malleable substance composed entirely of non-toxic materials that naturally decompose in our environment. The cactus plants survive the entire process – continuing to grow and produce leaves in the harshest conditions and without any human cultivation.


scientist making Biodegradable plastic alternative made from cactus plants


In an interview with BBC News, Ortiz discusses watching her child abandon small toys almost immediately. Why should such a short-lived item cause such a disastrous long-term effect on our world? While the cactus-based alternative cannot last as long as regular plastic, it’s potential lies predominantly in replacing single-use plastics. Plastic cutlery and bags make up a huge number of the objects covering our landfills, discarded after mere seconds and left to decay forever. With this new, innovative plastic material, these same items could be used and discarded without the fear of dangerous toxins leaching into the environment. Ortiz’s invention is still in the developmental stage, but she is excited at its potential ecological benefits and the large-scale positive impact it could have for our Earth.


It is exactly these pioneering developments that we hope to utilize in our packaging designs moving forward. Ortiz’s vision is simple: fewer single-use plastics polluting our ecosystem. These are the types of advancements that we will continue to educate ourselves on and will work to implement into our products and our processes. As of today, EPE USA has already saved over 670 million cubic feet of packaging materials, 6.7 million kilograms of carbon emissions, and 2 million trees. We stand at the forefront of environmentally conscious innovations and we remain steadfast in our commitment to providing sustainable packaging solutions with the least environmental impact.